Foster, Monalisa. “Pretending to Sleep: A Communism Survivor’s Short Story.” (2020)
Short version – a very good introduction to Communism in Romania from a child’s point of view.
I’ve been looking for material on Communism and the Cold War that I can use in class, and that is appropriate for my students. Something about a place other than the USSR would also be good, just to show that the rest of the world behind the Iron Curtain wasn’t pretty. Enter this book, which I saw on Monalisa Foster’s web-site and a few other places.
It is a fictionalized account of Romania during Communism. It packs a lot into a short story, and although suitable for older kids (age 10 and up), would require a lot of explaining. Foster expects readers to know about the Young Pioneers, and why having a family member escape or flee out of Romania was so terrible. And why so many children were unwanted.
I’m familiar with some of the, ahem, charms of the Securitate, Romania’s state security force. Think the Stazi but without the charm. Foster shows this, all too clearly, through the casual sadism and brutality seen by a child. The author interjects herself on occasion, but does a very good job of holding back, keeping things in the perspective of her younger self.
The story is an excellent introduction to the evils of Communism for younger readers, if guided by adults. Older readers will note the understatement, and probably have to do a little digging. I suspect many people my age have forgotten the horrors of Romanian “orphanages,” warehouses for the babies demanded by the state but unwanted by their parents.
My one complaint is that the print edition is much shorter than it appears. A number of pages at the end are taken up with advertising for the author’s other works. I realize that the print-price has a floor, and that all of us in the writing business want to market, but this cuts back on classroom usability. The per-page cost is a touch steep when trying to sell the book to They Who Control the Budget. Edited to add: This is a classroom teacher problem, and is not the fault of the author. It should not dissuade general readers from seriously considering the book.
Will I use the book in the classroom? Quite possibly, but probably not this year (have to plan ahead). It is much more suitable for younger readers than some classics such as The Bridge at Andau or the short stories by Shokolov (about the Russian Civil war period). I’m grateful to Foster for telling the story, even if I do want to grab a clue-bat and take it to the person who inadvertently inspired the writing.
FTC Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my personal use and received no remuneration from either the author or publisher for this review.